Federal investigation opened into Catholic sex abuse scandal

The U.S. Department of Justice has subpoenaed Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania in its investigation of abuse by priests.
2:22 | 10/19/18

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Transcript for Federal investigation opened into Catholic sex abuse scandal
Now to breaking news in that sex abuse scandal rocking the catholic church. The U.S. Justice department has now opened an investigation in Pennsylvania. ABC's David Wright is here with the latest. Good morning, David. Reporter: Good morning, Michael. This is believed to be the first time that the federal government has launched a statewide investigation of sexual abuse in the church before so far as we know they've only looked at cases in individual communities so this is a significant development. The federal grand jury issued subpoenas this week to Roman catholic leaders across Pennsylvania, seeking a trove of sensitive documents and testimony about past abuse cases. Federal prosecutors clearly following up on the work of the Pennsylvania grand jury which this summer gave the first comprehensive view of abuses going back 70 years. Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of god who were responsible for them not only did nothing, they hid it all. For decades. Reporter: The statute of limitations had already expired on the vast majority of those cases. What's not yet clear is whether federal charges might apply. The Pennsylvania report is part of a worldwide reckoning over the church's past history of abuse and the massive cover-up that enabled it for years. Here in the U.S., Pennsylvania was the first to take on the issue statewide. Now a number of other states are following suit. Already the Pennsylvania report has had a major fallout within the church prompting the resignation of one of America's most prominent catholic leaders, cardinal Donald wuerl of Washington, D.C. U.S. Bishops have also launched a nationwide investigation of their own with the pope's blessing with a particular view to holding church leaders accountable for the cover-up. The U.S. Bishops actually wanted the pope to go even further. They wanted what's called an apostolic visitation like the papal equivalent of a special counsel but poperancis turned them down so instead the bishops will be investigating themselves but you've got at least a dozen states looking into this now, plus this federal probe. This is a big deal. And possibly more down the road. Nobody's ever done a nationwide look at it so that presumably would be what would follow. All right, thank you so much,

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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